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The other weekend I went on an outing with my daughter, her partner and the four grandchildren to a family- (and yes, folks, that includes grandparents too) friendly playpark. And lo, there was a huge wooden ark-like ship towering up, which kids could climb up on, rush round and round getting giddy on, and then hurtle themselves at the speed of light down a very long slippery slide towards earth. Fantastic. There was also a slipwire thingy on which they could zip along at 100mph, dangling precariously like Indiana Jones over an abyss – ok, no abyss, but you can see where I’m going with this.
The thing is, play areas have never been my destination of choice with the grandchildren. Ok, their parents were there this time, but on my own it’s a horse of quite a different colour. My children say I was over-protective with them in the olden days – maybe I was, but my excuse is that I was a single parent who only had one pair of eyes and hands. But if I’m honest, the truth is that I’m a complete and utter coward, have a fear of anything high, fast or remotely dangerous which, coupled with a vivid imagination, bodes ill for exciting activities. In my childhood I fancied myself as a bit of a tomboy and did climb trees – but only half way up – hardly George of the Famous Five, more Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
I’ve noticed that I do rather over-use words like ‘be careful, ‘don’t do that’, ‘not a good idea’ or simply ‘Don’t’. But surely it can’t only be me, can it? Don’t other grandparents feel similar clutches of fear in a play area situation? Oh dear – is ‘Don’t’ a grandparent four-letter word? But are children more active nowadays and therefore more accident-prone than in the past? Judging by the media, they aren’t. Allegedly, most of the time they move (very slowly) from one kind of screen to another and, statistics show, have a tendency to be overweight. Healthy exercise should therefore be commended and encouraged. Oh dear, must try harder. And play areas are everywhere – but even with rubberised flooring and fencing, don’t they seem to be far more dangerous than erstwhile ones with wooden swings and seesaws? Now there are climbing frames as high as pylons, swings made of rope like giant gyrating fishing nets, climbing walls with tiny ledges for feet etc, etc. They seem to have invented paraphernalia much more likely to up the pulse rate and blood pressure of a nervous gran or grandad. Toddler Boy is, of course, a big fan of play areas. ‘Go away gran, I can do it by myself.’ Oh my lord.
And, hurray, there are theme parks and the like. There’s a place quite near called Paradise Park and in spite of the tropical vegetation and animals, Garden of Eden it definitely ain’t. Excited children scatter to the four winds leaving a hapless grandparent calling in a querulous voice, ‘Wait for me, wait for me’ and, you’ve guessed it ‘Be careful, don’t…’ And, how thoughtful, they’ve created different play areas for younger and older children, but not close enough together to keep an eye on both. And there are high wooden platforms to climb up on for viewing the animals – enough said. Ok, so it’s all do-able if you go with just one child, but that’s not so much fun for them, is it?
Back at home, there are perilous perils and dastardly dangers, e.g., granddaughters 2 and 3 (with toddler boy in tow) do synchronised gymnastic displays for gran’s delectation, dangling upside down from the frame of the swing in the garden. And garden trampolines – what’s with all this craze for bouncing? I tried it (once) and felt as if I’d had one too many vodkas – but children leap about like tiggers on speed. And couldn’t they knock themselves out on the metal bars which hold up the safety nets if they haven’t already broken a leg on a downward bounce? Yes, optimist I’m not.
Meanwhile, over in Argentina where my other two grandchildren live, they’ve invented a more aesthetically-pleasing form of grandparent torture. In the living room there’s a beautiful golden shaft of silken material which descends to the floor from a wooden beam in the ceiling. It’s meant for doing something between ballet and gymnastics. My granddaughter (aged 8) can wrap the material round her legs and climb up to the top, let go with one hand and sway most elegantly. ‘Look at me gran’, she calls from on high. Of course, you can also knot it and use it as a swing. Great. And God help us (I mean me, when I visit), when my grandson, who’s nearly three and already an intrepid climber, gets to grips with it.
But I am trying to be braver with the grandchildren as they bounce crazily on the trampoline or hang from the ceiling. And, so far, touch wood, we have all survived without even the need for a ‘cruster’ (toddler boy’s word for a plaster). But let’s face it, in my defence, some of us grandparents are maybe not as nimble as we used to be and our reaction times might be slightly slower. And I do think that when you’re not with the grandchildren all the time, it’s difficult to know exactly what they are capable of doing, what is safe and what could end in tears and/or a trip to A&E. So, ok – hands up to still being a bit over-protective, but sometimes I tell myself, it could just be a quality to be valued in a grandparent.